Colin Aitchison and the South China Jazzman live at Ned Kelly’s Last Stand in Hongkong

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Ned Kelly‘s Last Stand

Ned Kelly‘s Last Stand is Hong Kong‘s oldest pub, open since 1972. My first visit dates back to 1992 as a young man on the way home from Australia to Germany.

When I came back to HK 20 years later and suddenly found myself in front of the same pub I felt thunderstruck. Yes, I am sentimental!

I love Jazz and was delighted that they offer live Jazz every evening 

 

 

Colin Aichison and the South China Jazzman are the resident band. My expectations were rather low  for a house band playing every night. But I was so wrong.

Trumpet Player in a Jazz Club

Live Jazz – Trumpet

Modern Jazz often tends to go to extremes. There are the young intellectuals who play endless abstract and boring solos, which we all here’d before so many times. Then there are some angry free Jazzers who play endless loud dissonances, which we also heared before so many times.

Last we have the Jazz lovers for whom history stopped with Benny Goodman and who repeat note by note whatever Swing melody. This is what I would expect from the typical house band.

Jazz musician playing Saxophone

Sax

Jazz Musician playing the horn

Horn Player

Colin Aitchison and the South China Jazzman are a group of middle aged gentlemen who play rather conservative mainstream. But these gentlemen are so unpretentious. They just love music and have fun. It feels great sitting in this old pub and listening and joining them for a good evening and a beer.

Colin Aichison and the South China Jazzman live at Ned Kelly’s Last Stand in Hongkong

Colin Aichison and the South China Jazzman live at Ned Kelly’s Last Stand in Hongkong

I am sure that Colin Aitchison and his band mates would not think they could come up to Coltrane. And whoever would?

But such an unpretentious and very human performance is a marvellous experience. Thanks gentlemen!

Colin Aichison and the South China Jazzman live at Ned Kelly’s Last Stand in Hongkong

Colin Aichison and the South China Jazzman live at Ned Kelly’s Last Stand in Hongkong

Highly recommended.

Ned Kelly‘s on Facebook

 

 

Thoughts about Black and White Photography

Black and white photography of a narrow alley in backlight. With high contrasts. The light appears cross shaped. Outlines of people visible

Untitled

With very few exceptions modern cameras are digital and the sensor delivers a colour photo. Converting to monochrome is an extensive digital manipulation similar to cropping.
I myself am a colour photographer but have a few monochrome pictures. I always write in the description of the picture why it is black and white. Now I want to use the opportunity to write a bit more about the general principles when I convert to black and white.

Specific Retro Aesthetics

Just using some vague retro styles and BW on a random scene to pretend it has a meaning will not give a good picture and is not art.
Being specific is the key. The closer the retro style fits to a certain period or situation the better the picture will be. And this should match and advance the story of the picture.

BW photo of the lasers of Singapore‘s Marina Bay

Searchlights

The lasers in the rainy night sky reminded me of anti-aircraft searchlights in WW2 documentaries. To support this aesthetic idea I used a vintage BW filter with rough grain. I included the ultra modern buildings of Singapore on both sides of the picture as an ironic contrast instead of faking a historical scene.

A black and white photo of two men in a cafe with harsh contrasts, film noire style

That Afternoon…

These two gentlemen look a bit like spies or gangsters in a Noire movie in the harsh contrasts of the afternoon sun. I absolutely love Noire Aesthetics but often prefer such pictures in colour. In this picture the smartphone and the Costa label are clearly out of the Noire times and provide an ironic contrast of content to the vintage style which I reinforced with monochrome.

Structuring

A black and white picture showing a man exiting a bus in Mongkok

Bus Stop on Nathan Road

This is a very busy scene so typical of Mongkok, so many things going on at the same time. Please look at the textures on the side of the bus. These were reflected colourful neon lights. I generally love maximalism and love to fill the frame but this was a very chaotic scene and the eyes were overwhelmed. So I converted to BW to structure. The second method to structure this picture was a narrow depth of field and gradually blurring into the distance.

Isolating

There is a subtle but important difference between structuring a picture and isolating a certain theme within the picture

A black and white picture of the hands and chopsticks of two persons at dinner in selective light

Dining

Actually the light reflexes on the skin and the dish were quite nice in this scene but I really wanted to showcase the grace of the fine movement of a human hand in this picture and direct the viewer towards this without distracting elements by using black and white.

Tonal Qualities

Black and white photography of a wide avenue and tall buildings with high contrast. A small solitary human silhouette crosses the street

Morning in the CBD

In fact it is isolation when we showcase tonal qualities, how dark or bright certain areas of a picture are. But the tonal qualities and shades are so central to photography that this should be separated from isolating for example movements by both, the photographer and the viewer.

Please note how wide the tonal differences are between the darkest and brightest area in this picture and how many shades of grey in between are present.

The opening picture of this post also belongs to this category. In that picture the stark contrast between extremely bright and extremely dark shows the geometrical structure with not much intermediary grey in between.

Mood

Gloomy black and white photo of a man walking along Hong Kong harbour on a cold, Romy, foggy morning

Gloomy Morning

I personally think using black and white to make a picture more gloomy is a bit a cliche. But it works and can be used occasionally. Even in the RAW file this picture anyhow looked almost monochrome and using BW was a good choice.

… and very often Colour is the better option

A high contrast photo of a street intersection and a woman with her dog crossing, Shadowplay effect and surreal athmosphere

Another Morning in Tsim Sha Tsui

This picture has stark tonal contrasts and I planned it as BW. But it turned out that the remnants of colour are not distracting. Instead they give nice textures to the road and the dog and add depth.

I really appreciate great black and white photography. But a photographer should have a very good reason and make a conscious decision about sacrificing colour as it is such an important quality of light and seeing.

The Shadow Muse: Our Dark Side and Art

Recently I found this wonderful article by creativity coach Jill Badonsky:

The Shadow Muse

Well written and very inspirational. I love how playful she approaches such  a heavy topic.

 

C.G. Jung  introduced the concept of the Shadow, all the material of us which we repress because they do not fit into our picture of who we think we should be. This is our dark side and our weaknesses.

But we are not authentic without them and can not create authentic stories and art without expressing our shadow material. All these silly, obscene, psychotic, violent ideas which pop out from some dark corners of our unconscious mind are  important building blocks for art and add depth.

Keith Johnston has written more about this and that self censoring of such thoughts is a major roadblock for our creativity in his book „Improvisation for the Theatre“. But this exceeds this short post.

 

Happy Chinese New Year

A man walks through the rain in front of a shop window decorated for Chinese New Year

Happy Lunar New Year

A slow shutter photo of people shopping for Lunar New Year decorations in a mall

Shopping for Chinese New Year

The time around Chinese New Year feels very much like Christmas season in Germany. The city is nicely decorated and festive markets are set up. People are full of expectations and there is this deep feeling of comfort. The rituals and the childhood memories nurture it. But it is about bonding with our families and our fellows in the same culture and country by sharing emotions. On the other side it is a stressful time for everyone , preparing, planning, shopping…

Chinese New Year is for foreigners a difficult time in many places of Asia. Often it is crowded, expensive and many cities come to total stand still, most businesses including grocery shops and restaurants are closed. Add to this all the taboos and superstitions when interacting with others. I have been so often in Saigon for Chinese New Year and there it was not my favourite time.

But in Guangzhou it is a nice time. The city empties, no rush hours or queues. And enough stores and pubs stay open. Also people tend to be easy and not very superstitious. I usually stay here for the New Year and work and instead travel a bit later.

Here are some more impressions of Guangzhou’s New Year decorations

Bridge and buildings at the Pearl River beautifully illuminated

New Year’s Eve on the Pearl River

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Happy New Year of the Dog

About the Difficulties of Art in Photography

A camera is really easy to use, particularly compared to a violin or a painter’s brush. Learning to expose and focus fully manual takes a month, add two more months and we have practiced a lot. And by the way there are wonderful pictures taken with a camera on full auto mode. So the difficulty to make art photography is really not the technique. The difficulty is finding a Creative vision. I hope I can talk more about this in the future. Today I talk a bit about a common pitfall which so often paralysis creativity: technology and the abuse of it.

Night photography. Silhouettes of a patron and a waitress against brightly green illuminated background. An orange table provides a small colour contrast accent

Serving Tea

Unlike a violin a camera was not primarily designed to produce art. Cameras are used by journalists and for other documentary work, for example real estate agents use photos to show property and scientists and technical people use it. Our dentists have a top notch Canon DSLR with macro lense and macro flash.

A modern camera is usually a metal box with a lot buttons and dials and menus in a cryptic technical language. Plenty high tech accessories for diverse situations are available. And all this is so tempting to rely on technical skills and solutions to take great pictures.
Photographers tend to buy all the best accessories and rely on them. Getting an underwater casing will get pictures of interesting underwater life forms, a macro lense will reveal amazing details, a tilting lense will give architectural photos with fully corrected axes and angles, high speed photography impresses us with pictures of a bursting glass etc.
And all this might be interesting. But in the end it is just technical and keeps our interest just for minutes.
This is not art! Art should show something deeper, is about real emotions and moving stories and hold our attentional for a long time and encourage us to come back to the same picture many times. All these gadgets seduce us into thinking we could replace creativity with them.
This technical mindset also leeds many photographers to treat composition as a step by step guide to taking pictures. All compositional “rules” can be helpful for structuring a picture. But if they are not treated as sometimes useful cues but instead seen as laws or step-by-step recipes they lead to predictable pictures lacking any deeper meaning.

A damp hotel window in the night, in the background blurred, colourful city lights visible

In the Hotel, Looking out over a Foreign City

Photographic minimalism usually runs into the same trap. Yes, I am often impressed by that perfect picture of a single red nail in a plain white wall or the crack in the red brick. The story ends very fast in such pictures and I have no desire to look at it a second time.
We can admire technical mastery in them but these pictures are not worth coming back as we don’t feel about them.
Neither perfect technique nor equipment can substitute for true creativity.

Creativity is more a passive quality. We can not force creativity, we must trust the creativity which is in us and let it happen. And yes,  every human is Creative! Creativity is about seeing, feeling, perceiving, loving, curiosity.

I hope to talk more about creativity and art in the future.

The Pearl River Delta Megalopolis

Guangzhou is not very well known outside China and Foshan, Dongguan and Shenzhen are even less. So a few introductory remarks are helpful.

These 4 cities grew together into the largest urban conglomerate surpassing Tokyo with over 60 million inhabitants now and are the biggest manufacturing centre of China and the whole world.

The Pearl River Delta forms a triangle with Macao and Hong Kong on the base and Guangzhou on the top and the other cities in between.

Black and white photography of a wide avenue and tall buildings with high contrast. A small solitary human silhouette crosses the street

Morning in the CBD

 

When I first arrived in 2012 I had some idea what to expect from my experience in other cities of Asia but nevertheless I was surprised how dynamic,  modern and well organised this area is. It is really a powerhouse.

 

 

 

 

Sunset over a 10 lane avenue packed with cars. Huge buildings and bright billboards overlooking the avenue

Metropolis

How does it feel to live here? The dimensions are simply breathtaking. When we haven’t been here we might read the numbers. But we will only get the feeling once we are here.

 

 

 

I intended to stay 3 years and then move on, Africa was next on my list actually. But life is good in South China. The language barrier is huge but overall it is very comfortable, easy and safe and I find the people great to live and work with.

I am certainly not the right person to write a marketing brochure or a travel guide but would love to bring you the place a bit closer with some of my favourite spots.

The two pictures above are from the newest part,  Tianhe District, the CBD.

Here are more impressions from Tianhe:

Liwan District is the old town. While the district has plenty great old buildings which defininitely scream for gentrification, it has not happened yet. The old Canton is very much alive here. I spend so many days there and marvel at the mystery and colours and I have taken many pictures there:

Extending to the East of Liwan is a beautiful esplanade along the Pearl River. Not my most productive site for photography but I always enjoy going there, particularly in the nights. 2017 I had a bleeding in my right eye and saw only blurry with this eye. At that time reading, watching movies… was so stressful due to the asymmetrical vision and I was not allowed sports. I found the only thing I could enjoy In the evening was a walk along the river.

Guangzhou is the administrative centre and the trading hub of the Pearl River Delta but the main manufacturing cities are Dongguan, which I don’t know well , and Foshan. Most goods me and you have at our home we’re produced there. Manufacturing city might sound dreadful but Foshan is a quite dynamic place and is besides Hong Kong the centre of Southern Kung-Fu, Wing Chun. Yp Man and Bruce Lee were born here. The Temple of the Ancestors and adjacent Lignan Tiandi are great and colourful places. It takes more than one hour for me to go there with the metro but I feel it is worth to go there once every 6 weeks. Here are some of my pictures.

Shenzhen I visited only once and have no good pictures. SZ is not only the richest cities in China but also an intellectual centre. 20% of all Chinese with a doctorate live there.

 

 

Jay Maisel

this is the link to Jay Maisel’s homepage

www.jaymaisel.com

Read his books “Light, Gesture and Colour” and “It’s Not About the F-Stop”. In these books he takes us by the hand and teaches us in an easily understandable way how to see photos. The writing style is highly readable and the photos beautiful.

What is this picture about?

The first and maybe the most important question when taking or watching photo is: What is this picture about? And it is not just the subject! There are three elements always present and must be considered.

Let me show you a bad example first. I took this picture in 2001 in Angkor, Cambodia. The subject are these beautiful overgrown temple ruins. But what is the story this picture tells? The story is: “look everyone and admire me, I have been in Angkor!”

 

 

Here is better picture from me taken in a night club. The subject is the DJ who was illuminated by a very powerful spotlight. I exposed for the background and the DJ is overexposed and appears rather like a ghost of light and energy. This picture is not so much about the subject, not so much about her. It is about me, it expresses the energy and exhilaration I felt that evening.

 

 

Now let’s return to the subject with another photo from the same DJ on the same evening agsinst exactly the same background.

Can you see the emotions on her face, the pride, the professionalism of a performing artist and the tension when she faces the crowd? This picture is really about her. But what about me the photographer in this picture? I am still very present, I took myself and the background actively out by exposing on her to direct you, the viewer towards her.

 

 

 

And this leads me to the third part of what a picture is about. Please look at this picture.
What is the subject actually? The pavement? The light ? The darkness? Or something happening in the dark parts or directly after? There is no clear answer to this, the answer is subjective and your choice. The picture gives you a lot of space to fill, it is largely about you, the viewer and your phantasies and choices. Please note that you could also just reject the picture and dislike and just not care about the subject. Even then it is your choice, the picture would be still about you, the viewer.

 

 

Even in the previous pictures the viewer is present and chooses. Please look again at the picture of the DJ facing the crowd. You might have noticed that the spotlight is not focused on her face but on the boobs and the face is a bit dark. This is certainly not by chance but the intention of the light technician of this show and I conserved this and exposed the face a touch dark. It is your decision whether the emotions in the face are the leading element for you or the boobs as directed by the light of this professionally scripted show.

None of the pictures in this article is for sale.